Plus, we have the scoop on that "add corn syrup to the water" myth.

By Roxanna Coldiron
Updated July 01, 2020
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Johnny Miller

Real Christmas trees make for a beautiful and traditional holiday decoration. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25.9 million real trees at a value of $1.32 billion were purchased by people for Christmas in 2015, which is more than double the number of fake trees (12.5 million) purchased. However, keeping your real tree fresh during the holiday season does require providing your tree with some persistent care—and a good solid base.

Put the tree in water as soon as possible.

Remember: You're bringing home a live plant. If you want to keep it fresh, it needs to have adequate water. "Water is the absolute most important thing you can do to preserve your tree for Christmas," says Jane Neubauer, co-owner of Sugar Pines Farm in Chesterland, Ohio. "Get a tree stand with a built-in reservoir and check it regularly. People don't always realize how much water their Christmas trees will drink up. You'll need to replenish the water regularly." You can buy additives to help water absorption and kill bacteria, but they aren't as necessary as keeping the tree well-watered.

Trim the trunk.

When trees are first cut, sap rushes to close the wound and will seal the bottom. "When that happens, the tree isn't as able to absorb water," Neubauer says. "Add a fresh cut at the bottom right before you place it in water, and try to put up your Christmas tree the same day you bring it home." Using a saw, trim half an inch off the trunk before placing it in water in a reservoir stand. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, you'll want to make the cut at a perpendicular to the axis of the stem and avoid cutting the trunk at an angle or in a V-shape because it will make it harder to keep the tree upright in the stand. If you have to store the tree for a few days, Neubauer advises keeping the tree in a cool place with water until you're able to set it up.

Water, water, water (and maybe try additives).

Check the stand daily for water levels—as a general rule, you should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Despite popular belief, neither drilling a hole in the bottom of the trunk nor the temperature of the water impact the longevity or water retention of the tree. There is some debate among experts as to whether additives such as corn syrup, aspirin, and sugar are necessary to enhance the longevity of a tree. And while they aren't likely to harm the tree, a recent study affirmed that they were not any more effective than clean water. That isn't to say you should avoid experimenting!

Be cautious of heat sources including lights.

Direct sunlight or a furnace will quickly dry out the tree. "Your tree will become dry and brittle if it's too close to a heat source," says Naubauer. "Place the tree someplace where it isn't facing direct heat, and that will help your tree not to dry out too fast." Smaller lights on the tree might also help to slow the drying out process, but you can still do large lights if you keep up on watering the tree. You can also lower the temperature in the room where the tree is located to slow down the drying process. If your tree does dry out, though, you will need to remove it from the house and recycle it. Do not burn the tree in the fireplace or woodstove.

Turn off the lights when leaving the room.

Lights can become very hot and cause a fire hazard if left on the tree unmonitored for hours at a time. Play it safe and turn off the lights if you're not going to be around to monitor the tree. You also need to make sure that all of your bulbs are in good condition and that the cords for the lights are not worn or frayed. Real trees can catch fire, so follow general fire safety tips when keeping a real Christmas tree indoors. Turning off the lights occasionally will also slow down the drying out process.

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